Canada celebrated the sport of soccer Sunday as the Canadian men won qualification to the 2022 World Cup.
They did it in style, hammering an outmatched Jamaican side 4-0 on a frigid day at BMO Field to improve their CONCACAF qualifying record to 14-1-4 over three rounds and end a 36-year absence from the men’s soccer showcase.
“I think this country, they never believed in us. Because we’ve given them nothing to believe in,” said coach John Herdman, the architect of the Canadian men’s success. “They believe now.
“And I think if we all get behind each other — this is the time for everyone to get behind football and unite. Because we can be a powerhouse. And it’s time.”
Qatar awaits this November and the rest of the world better watch out.
“We are the best team in CONCACAF,” said midfielder Jonathan Osorio.
“Now people believe,” added the Toronto FC veteran, shivering in the cold. “And it’s incredible how much people believe. And it’s only going to get better. Now we want to go to a World Cup and really make a statement.”
Canada, which only needed a draw Sunday to qualify, has outscored its opposition 54-7 while posting 12 clean sheets in qualifying.
Cyle Larin, Tajon Buchanan and Junior Hoilett scored as the Canadians had their way with the Reggae Boyz before a loud and proud sellout crowd of 29,122. A Jamaican own goal in the 88th minute padded the score. And the margin of victory could have been far more lopsided.
For Herdman, who led the Canadian women to back-to-back Olympic bronze before taking over the men’s team in January 2018, it was a tipping point.
“We’re a football country,” he said. “We’ve got a kid (Alphonso Davies) winning Champions League finals. We’ve got players all over Europe. We’ve got young kids coming through. And we’ve just qualified for a World Cup. This is a legit football country.
“A women’s team that’s won an Olympic gold. What more can we ask for? It’s time.”
Canada (8-1-4, 28 points to lead the final CONCACAF qualifying round) dominated from the get-go, stacking scoring chances like firewood. The home side was up 1-0 after 13 minutes and 2-0 at the break. It could have been 4-0 midway through the first half when the sun made its first appearance.
Jamaica (1-7-5, eight points) spent the afternoon in reverse. The game was done and dusted after the first half.
The historic win came 37 years after Canada qualified for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico with a 1-0 victory over Honduras on Sept. 14, 1985, in St. John’s, N.L. That marked the Canadian men’s lone trip to the soccer showcase, where they lost all three games without scoring a goal.
Canada soccer has been on a high with the sixth-ranked Canadian women winning gold last summer at the Tokyo Olympics. Now the 33rd-ranked men, led by Herdman, get their time to shine in Qatar, while lengthening their runway to the 2026 World Cup, which Canada is co-hosting with the U.S., and Mexico.
The Canadian men also had a chance to seal qualification on Thursday in Costa Rica but lost 1-0 after playing two-thirds of the game with 10 men in the wake of Mark-Anthony Kaye’s red card.
The Costa Rica loss set the stage for the Toronto celebration.
“I’m just so pleased we didn’t win in Costa Rica,” said a smiling Herdman.
“I’m so pleased that this is how it was meant to be,” he added. “So I know why the football gods wouldn’t let us score (in Costa Rica). It was for tonight.”
Canada wraps up qualifying play Wednesday in Panama.
The fans braved the biting cold after the match to savour the moment with the players and team staff, who celebrated in the middle of the field in front of a sign that simply said Qualified. Players, wearing T-shirts that had Canada 22 on the back and We Can on the front, combined with fans on a Viking Clap, building in crescendo.
There was even a taped message on the video board from Davies, back in Germany where he is recovering from myocarditis, a heart inflammation after a bout of COVID.
Former national teams players like Paul Stalteri, Dwayne De Rosario, David Edgar, Lyndon Hooper, Julian de Guzman, Craig Forrest, Iain Hume and Paul Dolan, a member of the 1986 World Cup team, then formed a guard of honour on the field as the players were introduced with 39-year-old captain Atiba Hutchinson the last man.
The celebration continued in the warmer climes of the Canadian locker-room where the cheer flowed and hot tubs were popular.
Herdman had treated his players to a championship taste earlier in the day, taking them to the Toronto Raptors’ locker-room at nearby Scotiabank Arena for the pre-game meeting.
“And I told them there was a group of men that had made a decision to change their sport forever in that dressing room,” he said, referencing the Raptors’ 2019 NBA championship run. “And they (Herdman’s team) made that decision tonight.”
On a cold day, Canada came out hot and was rewarded for its dominance in the 13th minute when, after a lightning-fast counter-attack, Hoilett squared the ball to Stephen Eustaquio who threaded the needle to put Larin behind the defence. The Besiktas forward calmly slotted the ball past goalkeeper Andre Blake for his 24th goal for Canada, extending his national men’s scoring record.
Buchanan made it 2-0 in the 44th minute as Jamaica failed to deal with a free kick that the Club Brugge winger had earned after being chopped down in the midst of several stepovers. A defender headed Eustaquio’s free kick away but it went straight to Jonathan David, whose cross dropped at Buchanan’s feet in front of goal.
He celebrated the goal with his trademark backflip.
Hoilett made it 3-0 in the 83rd after Buchanan nicked the ball off a defender following a corner and fed the veteran Hoilett, who slashed through the penalty box and beat Blake for his 14th goal for Canada.
Adrian Mariappa’s failed attempt at a clearance off a Sam Adekugbe cross ended up in the Jamaican goal to make it 4-0.
Also Sunday, Costa Rica won 2-1 at El Salvador, the U.S. defeated visiting Panama 5-1 and Mexico won 1-0 at Honduras.
The results leave the U.S. and Mexico (both 7-2-4, 25 points) three points behind Canada with Costa Rica (6-3-4, 22 points) fourth.
The top three teams qualify for Qatar as representatives of North and Central America and the Caribbean while the fourth-place finisher takes on an Oceania side in an intercontinental playoff to see who joins them. Panama (5-5-3, 18 points), is out of contention in fifth place.
A blanket of snow greeted players and fans in Toronto when they woke up Sunday, although almost all of it had disappeared by kickoff. Thanks to BMO Field’s underground heating, there was just a dusting of white in parts of the patchy field.
There were light flurries at kickoff. Somehow the conditions made it more Canadian.
“Our House. Our Day. All of Canada is with you,” Canada Soccer tweeted in a video heralding the game, accompanied by the sounds of “Coming Home” by Diddy and Dirty Money featuring Skylar Grey.
The Canadians had dealt with worse in snowy Edmonton last November when they defeated Mexico and Costa Rica.
Still it was a chilly, windy afternoon with the temperature minus-five, feeling like minus-14 for the 4 p.m. ET kickoff. It didn’t faze Larin, Richie Laryea or substitute Alistair Johnston, who wore short-sleeved jerseys.
Canada flags flew proudly, with a few Ukraine ones dotting the sellout crowd.
Herdman made four changes to his starting lineup in Costa Rica, inserting defenders Scott Kennedy, Adekugbe and Doneil Henry and winger Hoilett. Adekugbe and Henry were suspended for the Costa Rica game.
Goalkeeper Milan Borjan took over as skipper from Hutchinson.
The Canadian men qualified the hard way this time. While CONCACAF powerhouses like Mexico and the U.S. got a bye to the final round, Canada had to start at the bottom in the region.
Herdman’s team had to dispatch Aruba, Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Suriname and Haiti just to reach the final round of qualifying for the first time since the lead-up to France ’98.
“If we look at it the right way, it just could be one hell of a story,” Herdman said prophetically in July 2019 when CONCACAF revamped its qualifying procedure.
Thursday marked the four-year anniversary of Herdman’s first game in charge of the men, a 1-0 win over New Zealand in Murcia, Spain, before just 75 people. His record at the men’s helm now stands at 29-7-4 with the only losses to the U.S. (twice), Mexico (twice), Costa Rica, Haiti and Iceland.
Already qualified in the 32-team men’s World Cup field are host Qatar, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Croatia, Denmark, Ecuador, England, France, Germany, Iran, Japan, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Uruguay.
Canada has been to seven of eight women’s World Cups, missing out only on the inaugural event in 1991. The women finished fourth at the 2003 tournament in the U.S.
The Canadian men were ranked 73rd in the world, compared to No. 47 for Jamaica, when they started World Cup qualifying in March 2021. Today Canada is 33rd while Jamaica is No. 62.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2022.